India's mastery stands pronounced

KABADDI has a rustic flavour in India, though the sporting world is awakening to its athletic appeal, as a discipline demanding sharp minds, physical agility, lung power and teamwork.

NANDAKUMAR MARAR

KABADDI has a rustic flavour in India, though the sporting world is awakening to its athletic appeal, as a discipline demanding sharp minds, physical agility, lung power and teamwork. These attributes were on display at the inaugural World Cup Kabaddi Championships in Mumbai, conducted on green synthetic mats to facilitate a level playing field for experts and converts in the fray. Matches under floodlights added to the lustre, with television relaying exciting images against a bright, colourful backdrop.

The Indian team which won the World Cup . — Pic. DEEPAK SALVI-

India and Iran, forging the best combination of attack and defence, finished at the top of a 12-nation pyramid. The proficiency displayed by Japan (pool `B' topper) and Canada, the passion seen in South Korea and Germany squads points to kabaddi's potential in expanding the interest base internationally, among outdoors people hardy enough to appreciate the joys of body contact sport.

Japanese coach Nitta Terukazu is one such addict. "I love kabaddi because this game is a personal sport (raider versus team), a team sport (defence works together) and enjoys the hard body contact." A regular visitor to India on learning trips with the Kolkata Police team, he points to the growing interest back home. "People are keen to know more about this sport. I want kabaddi to be a major sport in Japan."

The Terukazu advantage enabled the Japanese, playing with shoes and knee guards as protective gear, win three league ties in a row and confirm a quarterfinal berth, but thereafter fell short of coach's ambitions of finishing number two in the tournament, bowing out to Bangladesh. India and Iran were the only other unbeaten sides after the round-robin phase, a pointer to pool leader Japan's growth in the sport.

Kabaddi in a raw form is all about power play; the subtleties of raiding/catching techniques attracted the Koreans and Germans, two teams with inherent toughness needed for this sport but aware of shortcomings when exposed to competition. Indians, playing out of their skins due to crowd expectations at Wadala in central Mumbai, won due to mastery in grabbing bonus points. The bonus line rule, demanding raiders to venture deep into rival territory for extra points, was India's strength, exploited by skipper Sanjiva Kumar (16 raids, 12 points, five bonus) and Manpreet Singh (10, 3, 3) in the decider. It is an advanced skill, introduced to inject an element of calculated risk into offensive play, which India cashed on against Iran and Bangladesh in the final and semifinal respectively.

South Korea arrived a week ahead of the event, optimistically called World Cup Kabaddi by organisers South Kanara Sports Club, and spent time with Mumbai kabaddi stalwarts at Bhartiya Krida Mandir, getting familiar with the rules and finer points of the sport. The martial arts backup in this squad, led by Jung Jin Uk, was apparent in the opening game manoeuvres against Malaysia.

Germany, fielding a team with six whites, all from Idar Oberstein town near Mainz, too engaged local kabaddi players for practical demonstration prior to their World Cup debut against Bangladesh. The squad had a few Indian expatriates, among whom Vinit R took on duties of translating Hindi instructions into rapid-fire German. The crash course didn't help though in a tough four-team pool involving Iran and Nepal, tallying zero points.

The sport in Canada has a pronounced Punjabi influence, with Indian expatriates there reaching out to locals, leading to setting up of a popular club culture, with plenty of competitions and prize money for attractions. Jitender Sangha, the Canadian skipper and a paid player with Metro SC, informed about the existence of an all-white club in Toronto. Kabaddi's penetration into Europe and the Americas, via expatriates from Asian sub-continent, will refine it as the Caucasians bring physical elements into an already robust sport.

The Player of the Final, Shailesh Sawant, in one of his raiding missions during a league game. -- Pic. DEEPAK SALVI-

Howard Stanton from the West Indies points out kabaddi's similarities with rugby, a fierce, fascinating sport with its own universal following. "Like rugby, this is a thinking sport," said the England-born resident of Virgin Islands. "Players have to do tackling, kabaddi demands strength and stamina." At the same time, popularity in Asia will see martial arts influences seeping into kabaddi skills like raiding, adding an acrobatic element when teams like Japan, South Korea, Thailand are on the mat.

The Iranians, blessed with the best of both worlds, Euro power and Asian guile, made the most of the situation in the World Cup. Skipper Gholam Reza Mazandarani, Behzad Banedi and Hadi displayed ability of high order till the home team put them in place. Indian skipper Sanjiva Kumar, later named 'player of the tournament' tipped the Iranians to be tough opponents in future, once they got hang of finer points like bonus line raiding.

Sanjiva, from the Uttar Pradesh school of kabaddi and employed with Indian Railways, ruled out the need for drastic changes in the sport, just to cater to growing markets. "Kabaddi has very few rules and is a simple game, I don't see what more can be done. Changes needed have already happened, for example synthetic mats and bonus line rule," he observed. "We learnt to play on mud grounds, which Europeans avoid due to fear of injury, so now you have synthetic mats for international events. The bonus line for raiders, introduced to make the game more attacking and attractive, is already in play."

The Indian captain believes frequent competitions between India and top teams as the best way to attract more enthusiasts. "Test matches between nations, with proper organisation and media coverage, will sharpen players ability and keep the game in people's minds." The Amateur Kabaddi Federation of India (AKFI) has invited Bangladesh for a home series, giving the Indian heroes a chance to extend their World Cup form.

India's world champion status and demand for kabaddi among India expats can be encashed by organising promotional tours to nations like Canada, Japan, Germany, West Indies, etc. Clinics and competitions featuring India stars under floodlights on synthetic mats will enable other nations view kabaddi in its traditional form, at the same time create opportunities for local organisers to attract television channels. The newly-formed International Kabaddi Federation (IKF) is expected to take the lead in this area.

The results

Final: India 55 (Sanjiva Kumar 12-five bonus points), Manpreet Singh 3-3) bt Iran 27 (Behzad Banedi 3-2, Gholamreza Mazadarani 4, Mostafa Nodehi 1-1). Player of final: Shailesh Sawant (India). Player of Tournament: Sanjiva Kumar (India).

Semifinals: India bt Bangladesh 39-19 (12-5); Iran bt Canada 54-28 (31-9). Quarterfinals: Bangladesh bt Japan 33-24 (12-11); Canada bt United Kingdom 66-28 (32-11), India and Iran got q/f byes.

No sweat

INDIA won the world title without over-reaching itself, the players under instructions to do just enough needed to win matches against frenetic opponents. The home team, coached by Balwan Singh at three preparatory camps, opted for a low-key approach in the league stage, defeating Thailand, West Indies and Canada to top pool `A', edged out a spirited Bangladesh in the semis and shifted gears only in the decider against Iran.

The home side, up 27-12 at the breather, showed effortless raiding technique to grab seven bonus points in the first half, alongwith two loans. The second half saw India gain four points (four loans) against the Iranians, forced into desperate measures as the lead widened to 55-27 when the final ended, setting off celebrations in the stands as flag-waving supporters raided the arena. The support for Iran came from consulate staff, apart from Mumbaikars for spectacular raids or attacks.

India won Rs 2,00,000, Iran became richer by Rs 1,25,000; the semifinalists Bangladesh and Canada got Rs 50,000 each. Individual match-winners from the league phase were given gifts worth Rs 6,000 each in this event organised by Jaya Shetty and his team of volunteers for South Kanara Sports Club.